The Cantillon Brewery has presented itself as the Brussels Gueuze Museum since 1978. This is the last of its kind in Brussels, a family-run brewery that uses strictly traditional methods to brew its distinctive kinds of naturally fermenting beers.
The complex is located in a working-class area of Anderlecht, just west of central Brussels. Some recommended that I take a taxi here, but I hopped on one of the tram lines and that left me a few blocks from the place. It is actually even walkable from central Brussels, perhaps a 20-minute stroll or so.
I was handed a booklet which allowed me to take a self-guided tour of the facilities. This institution was started by Paul Cantillon in 1900, as the brochure explains. Each room is labeled with a number, which matches informative paragraphs on the brewing and fermenting process. You can see the authentic equipment and specially fitted rooms, which look, feel and smell old. Lambic beer is created by the spontaneous fermentation of airborne wild yeasts and microorganisms, and it is believed that the brew from this area of Brussels is so select because of the unique “micro-organic equilibrium” here. It is so distinctive that the original tiles of the old roof were retained after a renovation, and spiders and their webs are not disturbed. No insecticides are used to ruin the natural beers, so spiders take care of any bad insects that may be lured by the fermentation.
The gueuze (or gueuze-lambic) is the standard blend of one, two and three-year old lambic. It can vary from year to year, barrel to barrel, but it has a unique taste that can be described as bitter, tangy or sour. A popular variation of gueuze is kriek, which has a fruity and sour cherry flavor. Other fruit versions use raspberries, apricots or white grapes instead of cherries.
The tour is simple and not too strenuous, although there are a few stairs, and some dark and dank areas. The stacks of giant oak barrels are impressive sights, and watching the bottling machine operate shows that the brewery has made slight concessions to modern technology. The labels on the bottles feature colorful renderings by local artists.
You will get to sample small glasses of gueuze and kriek at the end of the tour. This is powerful stuff and geared to the beer connoisseur, not for the town drunk or the bloated beer belly who quaffs light American beer. You can relax in the seating area and admire some old photos on the walls. Purchase from a select variety of beautifully packaged bottles of brew. If you like what you drink here, you can also buy some unique marmalades. Souvenir t-shirts depict the brewery logo, a silhouette of a tipsy fellow barely balanced on a chair but still enjoying his serving of Cantillon.
The brewery is open as early as 9am on weekdays (drink your beer samples for breakfast!) and is closed on Sundays.